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Volume 77, Number 13 | Aug. 29 - Sep.04, 2007

Theater
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Photo by Francis Kuzler

Shauna Kelly and Christopher Yeatts play various roles in “Stoppard Goes Electric,” opening Sept. 6 at Center Stage, N.Y.

Made-for-TV Stoppard finds a latter-day place on stage

By Jerry Tallmer

The phone rang as I was sitting here waiting to speak with Tim Erickson, artistic director of the Boomerang Theatre Company, an Off-Off-Broadway unit that is about to open its tripartite fall season, one third of which (“Stoppard Goes Electric”) consists of three short television plays written in the 1960s by a Tom Stoppard not yet out of his 20s and something like a year away from astonishing the world with “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.”

When I picked up the phone, it wasn’t Tim Erickson. It was Tom Stoppard, calling from London to set up a date for us to talk about his “Rock-’n’-Roll” that’s coming to Broadway in November.

“Tom!” I said (I know this is beginning to sound like a Tom Stoppard play, but there you are) — “Tom, it just so happens that there’s a little Off-Off-Broadway company here that’s about to stage three of your television plays from the ’60s.”

“Crikey!” said the world’s arguably greatest living playwright.

“Well, well, well,” he said, and asked what the three plays were.

They are: “Teeth,” about a cuckolded dentist’s revenge on the man who has cuckolded him; “Another Moon Called Earth,” which mixes adultery, astronautism, female boredom, and the defenestration of an aging nanny in a stew of male frustration; and “A Separate Peace,” in which a stranger with a suitcase full of money shows up in the middle of the night at a hospital in the English countryside and insists on being taken in and given a room and bed, though he is not ill or injured in any way, then declines to leave that room so long as the money to pay for it (from that suitcase) holds out.

“Yes,” said Stoppard, “ ‘Teeth’ and ‘Another Moon Called Earth’ must have been 1965, and ‘A Separate Peace’ the next year. I did radio and television from the beginning to around 1980.”

Is that what kept you alive?

“No. Yes. Freelancing radio and television, and journalism.” Pause. “Believe it or not, I’m just sitting here doing the first draft of a 15-minute radio play based on ‘Dover Beach,’ the poem by Matthew Arnold that — ”

I know “Dover Beach,” said this American hick.

“You’d be surprised who doesn’t know,” said Stoppard. “Anyway, this is being written for an actor friend of mine, a very good actor named Alan Howard, it’s a play for two voices, and there you are.”

What had actually crossed my mind upon reading the three above television plays the other day was that in a way — the Stoppard way, the Stoppard voice — these short pieces were as much Theater of the Absurd as anything by Ionesco or Arrabal or whoever, except clearer, cleaner, more adventitious, more plausible, more logical. Crazy plausible. Crazy logical.

Something of the same had evidently struck Tim Erickson, the Boomerang artistic director (and founder) who, when we connected by phone, said it was his coming across “A Separate Peace” in an anthology of Stoppard’s television plays that had led to the current “Stoppard Goes Electric” program. “I fell in love with ‘A Separate Peace.’ ” Fell in love with Stoppardian lines like this, spoken by the fellow who shows up at that pastoral hospital and just stays: “I thought I’d like to be a lighthouse keeper but it didn’t work out. Didn’t like the company.”

Absurd or unabsurd, what Erickson most admires in Stoppard is “his wit and compassion and the way he can take an emotional moment and analyze it both from the emotional and intellectual point of view.”

Two years ago the Boomerangs did Stoppard’s 1980s radio play “Artist Descending a Staircase” (later developed by the playwright into a full-length piece for the stage). Now Erickson sees “Stoppard Goes Electric” as not just the demonstration “of an emerging writer’s potential and trademark” but, by George — well, by Tim — the “early evaluation of a genius.”

Erickson himself directs, not “A Separate Peace,” but “Teeth.” The director of “A Separate Peace” is Rachel Wood, of “Another Moon Called Earth” is Christopher Thomasson. The seven actors of all three plays are Richard Brundage, Mac Brydon, Bill Green, Shauna Kelly, Kate Ross, Sara Thigpen, and Christopher Yeatts.

The three-part Stoppard package is itself part of a three-way Boomerang rotating-repertory schedule, September 6 through September 30 at Center Stage, NY, on West 21st Street. The other two thirds, on various evenings, are J.C. Priestley’s 1932 “Dangerous Corner,” directed by Philip Emeot, and a post-9/11 “The Heart Has a Mind of Its Own,” by Larry Kirwin, directed by Cailin Heffernan.

Boomerang also does outdoor Shakespeare in Central Park. Tim Erickson, who founded the company nine years ago, was born 36 years ago in Vineland, New Jersey. His mother’s a nurse, his father’s a chemist. He himself was working in the finance office at Lincoln Center when Stoppard’s “Arcadia” was being done there. “I walked by him in the hall one time. I was so nervous I didn’t say anything.”

Just imagine what Tom Stoppard could do with that moment, in or out of a television play.


STOPPARD GOES ELECTRIC. Three short plays for television by Tom Stoppard, presented on various dates between September 6 and September 23 by the Boomerang Repertory Theatre at Center Stage, NY, 48 West 21st Street, 4th floor, (212) 929-2228. Also in the repertory through September 30: DANGEROUS CORNER, by J.B. Priestley, and THE HEART HAS A MIND OF ITS OWN, by Larry Kirwan.


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